Bet your first thought was: “Hang on, those can’t be microlights – they look like proper aeroplanes!”
The truth is, it’s sometimes impossible to tell the difference. Thanks to the rapid technical advances possible with the relatively light regulation required for microlights, the performance of the newer fixed-wing versions outstrips that of the traditional light aircraft you see at airfields, and by a considerable margin.
They use smaller fields, fly faster and cost less to buy and maintain. In fact, they are so good that many pilots of light aircraft are changing to microlights.
As you’ll see from the pictures here and on pages 10 and 11, most microlights in Britain fall into two types: flexwings, which developed from hang gliders, and these fixed-wings, which are just like a smaller version of traditional light aircraft.
Most fixed-wing microlights are fully enclosed, though many of the older ones just have a windscreen. Mostly you sit side-by-side, which is more sociable than tandem seating!
You’ll have headsets and an intercom to talk to each other in flight, but helmets are very rarely used.
On the ground, you steer using the rudder pedals – push left to go left – and control your speed using the throttle and brakes.
In the air the main control is the joystick. Some have a single central stick which you share, and some have individual floor-mounted sticks in front of each seat.
In either case the aircraft follows the stick; move it forward and the aircraft points down and speeds up; pull it back and the aircraft climbs and slows, meaning it’s usually time for a spot of throttle.
Move the stick to the left or right, and the aircraft banks that way.
Fully enclosed cabins are more comfortable than the open environment of a flexwing, particularly for non-flying partners and friends. In fact most modern fixed-wings come with heated cabins for cosy winter flying.
Generally, fixed-wing aircraft need to be kept in a hangar at the field. A few can be folded and taken home on a trailer.
Prices for fixed-wing machines are usually a little more than for flexwings; older ones that do around 50mph can be as little as £3000 secondhand, but if you’re looking to buy new, prices start at around £16,000 and go up to over £80,000.
Mind you, for the top price you’ll get a machine that will go fly out of a 150m field, cruise at 130mph or fly flat out at 160mph, use as little as 10 litres of fuel an hour and fly non-stop from London to Madrid.
If you want to save costs and are reasonably good with your hands, there is a wide range available in kit form that you can build yourself. The level of skill required varies, but in all cases the manufacturer is on hand to give you all the help you need.
If you don’t fancy that, as Microlight Flying editor Geoff Hill says on page 3, a great way to share the cost of buying and flying an aircraft is to join or form a syndicate, which also means you’ve got a ready-made bunch of friends to go flying with – and swap yarns with in the clubhouse afterwards.